He remains a staunch opponent of drug use in horse racing, but Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse doesn’t believe a steroid helped Medina Spirit win the Kentucky Derby.
Medina Spirit earned trainer Bob Baffert a record seventh Derby victory May 1 at Churchill Downs. But the horse subsequently tested positive for Betamethasone, a steroid sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation in horses.
Churchill Downs suspended Baffert, a Hall of Fame conditioner, immediately. Baffert insists he never administered the drug and has promised full transparency with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s investigation.
Medina Spirit’s Derby win stands, for now, but the horse faces disqualification if the initial findings are upheld. Even if that happens, betting on the May 1 race will likely not be impacted.
Casse, Canada’s top thoroughbred trainer an unprecedented 11 times, had two horses in the 20-horse Derby field: Helium (eighth place) and Soup and Sandwich (19th). But Casse remains convinced doping had nothing to do with Medina Spirit winning the race.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t add up even a little bit,” Casse said in a telephone interview Monday. “The positive test is so minute that it could have had no bearing on the outcome.
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“I think we need a commission to oversee things like this. I think there are people out there, men and women, doing things and getting away with things that are changing our industry and they need to be caught. But this is not one of them.”
Baffert told reporters Sunday Medina Spirit had tested positive for 21 picograms of Betamethasone, just over twice the allowable limit of 10 picograms per millilitre. If Medina Spirit is disqualified, second-place finisher Mandaloun would be awarded the victory.
Jockey key to victory?
“If somebody is cheating or crossing the line or doing things they shouldn’t be, I think they should be banished from the sport,” Casse said. “Not given a little suspension, a little fine but there has to be due process.
Casse cites winning jockey Johnny Valazquez as the biggest factor in Medina Spirit’s victory.
“That horse wasn’t the best one in the race,” Casse said “Johnny Valazquez won the race because he came out with a plan, he had the perfect storm and it worked for him.
“If you ran that race 10 times you might have 10 different winners. I don’t believe he won the race because of this positive test.”
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Some have questioned how a horse that was purchased for $1,000 US as a yearling and just $35,000 as a two-year-old could win the Derby? But Medina Spirit had also caught Casse’s eye as he put a bid on the horse as a two-year-old.
“That in itself is one of the great things about our business,” Casse said. “A $1,000 horse can beat a $1 million horse.
“He’s not the first one like that. He’s actually an extremely attractive horse with just an obscure pedigree.”
Casse said he has a good relationship with Baffert on and off the track and understands the immense responsibilities trainers have as the head of their respective operations. And the harsh reality is the more wins trainers accumulate, the larger the target on their backs.
Spate of positive tests for Baffert-trained horses
“In most places you’re innocent till proven guilty but in our sport you’re guilty till proven innocent,” Casse said. “And they all fall back on where the trainer is responsible for everything … and so I have sympathy for Bob.
“I think the key is due process and does it all make sense? Right now, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
However, this marks the fifth time in just over a year that a Baffert-trained horse has had a positive drug test. Gamine tested positive for Betamethasone after finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks last September.
The horse was eventually disqualified, and Baffert fined $1,500.
“I do feel extremely strong about it [drugs in racing].” Casse said. “Again, if it’s in fact proven that Bob knew about it or did something wrong and that is the case, then he should be punished and probably banished.
“But as I say, we have to give him due process.”
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